Dangerous clams

When Carol and I were at the Working Waterfront Festival on Sunday, we met an author named Doug Campbell, who was there selling his book The Sea’s Bitter Harvest. Campbell was a long-time reporter for the Philadeplphia Inquirer, and he got assigned to report on the story of four deep sea clam boats that went down in January, 1999. (Much of the deep sea clam industry is based in southern New Jersey, not far from Philadelphia — thus the Inquirer’s interest.) Campbell’s interest in the topic grew, and next thing he knew, he found himself writing a book.

I’m most of the way through The Sea’s Bitter Harvest, and it’s a fascinating read. Not only is it a suspenseful story, but Campbell gives us a picture of the life of clam fishermen, which is very different from the long-line fishing that you’ve probably read about in The Perfect Storm. And one of the boats that Campbell writes about, Cape Fear, was based in New Bedford before she sank, so he also gives a picture of this less-well-known side of the New Bedford fishing trade. (I learned that the clam boats are the ones with the big black hose coiled on the stern and a steel clam dredge on either the stern or off to one side.)

One interesting point that Campbell makes is that the men and women who go out on New Bedford fishing boats not only have easy access to drugs down on the waterfront, but because fishing can be so lucrative they have also lots of income to spend on drugs. Of course, many in the fishing trade will have nothing to do with drugs. But like stockbrokers, fishermen and -women are in a high-stress job that pays extremely well. No surprise that some people in both lines of work use drugs.

Fascinating book, and worth reading.